How IAP is Contributing to Corporate Accountability in Uganda

by John Mwebe

IAP with Members of COPACSO discussing investments in pastoralism in the Rangeland areas of Uganda.

While campaigning for another term in office in 2021, the President of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni remarked: “You hear people say ‘Museveni should go’, but go and leave oil money. That’s my oil. I won’t allow anybody to play around with it.”

This statement embodied the fusion of politics and investment in Uganda with an overbearing effect on the communities’ ability to push back against violations perpetrated by corporations in their operations. This ‘corporate capture’, in many ways, represents the dilemma in the pursuit of corporate accountability in Uganda.

Investment Promotion in Uganda

In Uganda, the existence of an abundance of natural resources and a favorable legal system has been a major driver of investment and a facilitator of foreign direct investment. On one hand, investment promotion is seen as a means to foster sustainable industrialization for inclusive growth, employment, and sustainable wealth creation yet has in a way entrenched the violation of the rights of the people by corporations.

Efforts in Uganda to hold corporations to account for violation of human rights have taken different forms including engagement with relevant governments, companies, and investors outside Uganda, face-to-face meetings inside Uganda, community protests, petitions, and participation in public and private complaints or legal processes. The effectiveness of these actions has been incredibly valuable, but in important ways, the enforcement has been limited by the high-handedness of the government to protect companies and investors at the expense of the affected communities.

IAP’s Involvement in Corporate Accountability in Uganda

IAP with other CSOs protested against the actions of the WB and IMF at their Annual meeting in Marakesh, Morocco, 2023

The experiences of communities resisting the harmful practices of corporations in Uganda are similar in many ways to communities in other African countries where the International Accountability Project (IAP) operates. It’s through these experiences that IAP extends support to communities affected by the operations of corporations in Uganda. This aligns with IAP’s belief that development should be a process that enables all people to uphold and claim their rights, live with dignity, and thrive on the land they love.

For its corporate accountability work, IAP leverages partnership platforms and coalitions that already operate in Uganda. One such coalition is the Uganda Consortium on Corporate Accountability (UCCA), a civil society consortium enhancing accountability by corporations and states for violations of economic, social, and cultural rights. IAP has three core areas of interventions that include; 1) providing information to civil society and communities on the roles of public and private actors in development investments; 2) supporting community-led research to strengthen local campaigns towards governments and companies and; 3) facilitating access to decision-making spaces for affected communities. In the fulfillment of these roles, IAP prepares, advises, and accompanies communities and civil society members in negotiations with governments, companies, and investors.

  1. Training and access to company and investor information

In engagements organized by UCCA, IAP supports training of member organizations in advocacy around development banks. These trainings are conducted through physical meetings and webinars facilitated by IAP and the UCCA Secretariat. Emphasis is placed on the role of development banks as facilitators of investments to public and private actors in Uganda. The trainings also provides access to private actor investment information through the Early Warning System that is hosted by IAP.

Notably, UCCA members in the Albertine region who, hitherto, dealt largely with withholding corporations to account for rights violations by the oil projects now incorporate development bank advocacy. The training laid the foundation of advocacy that transcends national governments to the financiers of the projects. As such, IAP is continually gaining leverage with development banks through using the experience gained working with communities to contribute to policy discussions on responsible project financing.

IAP contributed to the study and advocacy around financing for access to the COVID-19 vaccine in the African region and a series of discussions on Chinese investments under the African Coalition on Corporate Accountability (ACCA). Currently, the Energy Finance Tracker, IAP is tracking public and private investment trends for energy financing and key insights on current energy investments including fossil fuel and renewable energy to support research and advocacy for climate justice and a just transition. To maximize this work among civil society in Africa, IAP and ACCA recently co-hosted a public webinar on the Energy Finance Transition in Africa.

2. Strengthening campaigns with community-led research

UCCA engages its members through Regional Corporate Accountability Platforms (RECAP) to identify issues to act upon. IAP’s major role in the RECAPs is to profile the corporations involved particularly by identifying their registration details and their financiers. With this information, communities are supported to conduct advocacy and community-led research where issues to be raised with the project financiers are agreed upon.

One such project that was identified through the RECAP is the Wadelai Irrigation scheme under the FIEFOC 2 project financed by the African Development Bank. It was taken up following a request for support by the Paten community citing the forceful takeover of their land for the establishment of the scheme in the Pakwach district.

From the initial request for support to the Paten clan made through BIRUDO (Buliisa Initiative for Rural Development Organisation) in 2021, IAP supported community members to conduct community-led research to establish the facts regarding the case and to devise advocacy actions to suit. This culminated in the filing of a complaint with the Independent Recourse Mechanism of the African Development Bank and consequently, a Management Action Plan to provide remedies for the violations meted out to community members by Pakwach District local government and Coil Limited, the implementing partner. To learn more, please read my previous article.

Another such project was the Tilenga Oil project in the Albertine region where the project affected persons under the Central Processing Facility that refused to take the compensation provided by Total E&P reached out through BIRUDO for support. For its part, IAP consulted Inclusive Development International through the ‘follow the money’ initiative to identify additional financiers of the Central Processing facility being developed by Total E&P.

Information acquired by the affected persons from the further mapping of additional financiers was instrumental in determining the actors to reach through community advocacy. The efforts made to address the plight of affected persons have been significant in addressing concerns of affected persons in subsequent oil projects particularly the East African Crude Oil Pipeline from Hoima to Mutukula districts in Uganda.

IAP contributes to the planning by strategizing for community-led research and determining interventions for concerns raised by partners. IAP also contributes to clusters within UCCA including the trade and investment as well as the land and environment clusters. The clusters are made up of organizations that have an interest or are working around the subject matter that it represents. This has supported IAPs function of supporting community advocacy through enhancing access to further project information for community organizations based upon clusters that they subscribe to.

3. Facilitate access to decision-making spaces for affected communities

In Uganda, IAP spearheads training, strategic advice, and access to information, particularly to support communities affected by the Tilenga Oil Project and Wadelai Irrigation Project. IAP accompanies community members at in-person meetings with representatives of government, companies, and investors as part of any negotiations or external research processes. IAP leverages its experience and connections for a community’s demands to engage the government, companies, and investors outside of Uganda, including for example, the Nordic Development Fund, Directors of the African Development Bank, and the United States Treasury.

Support for community action and justice

IAP with UCCA holding discussions with a community affected by the works of marble mining companies in Tapac Subcounty, Karamoja region, Uganda.

The need for foreign direct investment to drive Uganda’s development agenda and especially the harnessing of natural resources can’t be overstated. It’s evident through the preferential treatment that is accorded to particularly foreign corporations that have been licensed to operate in Uganda. However, these elements have entrenched corporate capture, further aggravated violations of the rights of affected communities, and limited the pathways for justice and remedy.

The overbearing arm of the political class that personalizes resources and as well militarizes the operations of corporations makes it harder to do due diligence and to seek remedies for violations. Community education about their rights, when faced with harmful actions of corporations, can bolster community agency. This goes a long way to establish a foundation to advocate for their rights within the legally prescribed means at the national level and towards foreign governments, companies, and investors. However many of the actors and the complex relationships among them, as well as the pathways for their demands and priorities to be heard, are initially unknown to the communities and therefore may not be at first integrated into their campaign. Rightly, their focus is centered on the most immediate needs: continuation of their culture and livelihood, access to land and resources, a free and safe environment to meet and advocate for their rights and priorities, and ultimately, justice and remedy for any harm caused. As a close partner with communities and the local and national civil society supporting them, IAP acts as a necessary intermediary to strengthen community-led campaigns toward the governments, companies, and investors, in particular those from outside of Uganda.

John Mwebe is the Program Coordinator at the International Accountability Project and is based in Uganda.



International Accountability Project (IAP)

IAP is a human and environmental rights organization that works with communities, civil society and social movements to change how today’s development is done.